Chapter 12: Isla
As she realised what was happening, Isla prayed to God the ground would open and swallow her whole. How was it that her daughter, her own flesh and blood was so utterly different from her? How could she, aged five, find it within herself to march up to an almost perfect stranger and strike up a conversation? Dee was thirty-four years her daughter’s senior and had yet to perfect this skill. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to. She used to make tremendous efforts to try and function well in social situations, but realised eventually that this would never be her comfort zone and there was no way to force it to happen. She could manage, just about, but she could not imagine ever having the confidence to approach a stranger in the manner her daughter had just made look like, well, child’s play..
She watched on as Milly ran up to Miss Solicitor, ball in hand – ball always in hand. Almost before she had finished her approach the words began to fall from her mouth. The garbled, excited ramblings of a five-year-old who is so excited by every minute of every day that she must relay every thought, every feeling, every nuance about what is going on in her life right now, without delay.
Though Isla couldn’t hear her, she could see from the speed with which her daughter’s mouth was moving and the animated way she held and moved her body, that she was speaking very quickly. That she was excited by, not scared of, this stranger by the train who thrown her to the ground just a few days earlier. If Miss Solicitor was taken aback by the onslaught of words she was suffering at the hands of Milly, she hid it well. A smile played on her lips and she nodded seriously, stooping slightly to better give this vibrant, bouncing girl her full attention.
As she drew nearer, Isla could hear snippets of the conversation, if you could call it that, what with Milly failing to pause to draw breath. It was more of a garbled monologue.
“…and Mummy said I’d never get the old ball back and I was sad because I really did love my Little Mermaid Ball because it had Ariel and Flounder and Sebastian on it but Mummy said the train ate it up and we couldn’t get it back and that if you hadn’t been there then the train would of eaten me up too and I’d be in little pieces just like my ball all flat underneath the train…”
Miss Solicitor was visibly taken aback at this point. Isla wondered whether it was Milly’s calm acceptance of her own mortality which shocked her or whether, like Isla, Miss Solicitor had replayed that scene and its possible alternative endings in her mind many times since it had happened and found herself recoiling at the grizzly possibilities. Isla was surprised to hear Milly talk about the incident because she’d shrugged it off each time that Isla had bought the topic up with her. But then, she supposed, this woman, this pristine, beautiful high-powered woman had played a special role that day. She was the one who saved Milly’s life. She was the one who dove to the platform floor. She was the one who had circumvented history and the future with her instinctive actions and so perhaps it was inevitable that her daughter seemed drawn to her.
“I’m sorry” said Isla to Miss Solicitor, catching her eye, embarrassed. I’m not sure what’s come over her.” Then taking Milly’s hand she walked her further down the platform. She carried on past their usual spot to stand a little further from Miss Solicitor, such was Isla’s embarrassment and discomfort at the situation. She wondered what Miss Solicitor must think of her. Would she be judging her parenting? After all, how could a mother allow her child to almost run into the path of an oncoming train and what kind of child talks about her own death in such a matter of fact way?
Isla could imagine how she would judge a fellow parent in a similar situation and could feel the heavy, judgemental weight of Isla’s eyes on her back as she walked away.
“Why can’t I talk to her Mummy!” complained Milly “She’s a nice lady. I really like her shiny boots. Do you like her shiny boots? Why can’t I talk to her?” Isla felt somewhat overwhelmed by her daughter’s verbosity and snapped a little more harshly than she intended
“You can’t just talk to random strangers Milly – she wouldn’t want to hear what you have to say. She has far more important things to do than listen to your stories.”
“But Mummy, she was listening, she liked my story.” And it was true, Miss Solicitor really had been listening – but whether it was out of interest, or purely a desire to be polite, Isla had no way of knowing. After all, Isla’s imagined profession for Miss Solicitor placed her as someone who would be paid to spend her days listening to people. Hearing, analysing and summarising their problems. A professional listener really and no matter how trivial, how wrong, how altogether uninteresting her client’s problems were, Miss Solicitor would listen with a practiced patient air, because that was what her clients were paying her for. Perhaps they were people who were not used to being listened to and were desperate to share their side of the story; keen of an opportunity to tell a patient stranger about quite why their marriage had fallen apart, about how unjust their partner’s actions were.
The more that Isla considered it, the more she realised that being a solicitor really was like being a professional listener and that in many ways it wasn’t so far removed from being a therapist, except instead of encouraging your client to navigate choppy waters themselves, the solicitor did the steering, helping to chart the most profitable course. The course with the best outcomes for the client regardless of who else might be thrown overboard.
But of course, Miss Solicitor might not be a solicitor at all. The life she led in Isla’s mind was an entirely imagined one. Maybe Milly was right and what Isla had observed was not professional, patient listening, but a genuine interest in a wonderful five-year-old with stories to tell and far too many words to tell them with.
Perhaps she’d never know.
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Thank you for feeding back each day. I’m building in your edits and suggestions to the version held on my local machine so the initial raw version will remain here. When I’ve got questions, I’m going to ask them each day – don’t feel obliged to answer them, but if you’re happy to they’ll help me as I try to craft the story. If you have questions or observations I’d be keen to hear them too.